Permits: Third time the charm?

Amid skepticism, online reservation system set to go live Monday

by Tom Coombe -

After another false start, BWCAW permits are slated to be available Monday, when a highly-scrutinized and maligned online reservation system goes line.
Barring another last-minute delay, the highly-coveted permits will be available starting at 9 a.m. Monday on the website www.recreation.gov.
It’s the third attempt in a new effort to distribute permits to the wilderness area near Ely.
A first failed in a matter of minutes on Jan. 30, and plans for a Feb. 27 launch were scrapped last week.
As of Thursday’s Echo deadline, there were no indications that there would be another delay, and Forest Service officials announced in late February that they were taking numerous steps to ensure the system’s success.
Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber (R) added another wrinkle to the debate this week, introducing legislation that would require the Forest Service to return to a lottery system for permit distribution in 2020.
The lottery was scrapped last year as the Forest Service opted to make BWCAW permits available in the same manner as those used at other national parks.
The switch rankled many people in the Ely area, including some canoe outfitters, who voiced their frustrations in November - to no avail - at a public meeting with Forest Service officials.
The fears expressed in November were realized Jan. 30, when the new system went live and promptly crashed and burned, with the Forest Service soon announcing that the entire system was being shut down and that all transactions would be voided.
The crash led to a public hearing in Ely, convened by Stauber, that prompted many calls to return to a lottery system as well as skepticism about the online system.
Some area leaders say the new system puts BWCAW permit puts local residents and business owners at a disadvantage because of the digital divide and the lack of reliable, high-speed internet in the Ely area.